On February 13, 1743, [O.S.] British naturalist and science patron Sir Joseph Banks was born. Well-educated and heir to a fortune by 20, Banks employed his talents and resources in the cause of Natural Science, and Botany in particular.
He collected rocks, plant and insect specimens during a journey to Newfoundland and Labrador. Banks demonstrated the hallmark of his character and generosity of spirit as he encouraged others to access his collections in the promotion of better science. He also learned what it took to house, hold, and keep whole, large shipboard collections and how many men were needed for the task.
He sailed around the world on Cook’s first voyage aboard HMS Endeavour with a staff of eight! Chosen by King George III to direct the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Banks built them into a world famous institution. Banks assembled shipboard units of illustrators, taxonomists, plus equipment for specific voyages – a one-man ship-lab designer. He kitted out the botanists, usually from his own purse, to add to his own and Kew’s collections. He organized the botanic components of HMS Investigator that helped map Australia and of HMS Discovery that helped map the Northwest coast of the Americas. His botanists also travelled to Africa, the East Indies, South America, and India.
Banks was a firm believer in the economic value of plants for food and medicines. Knowing that how best to use a species in a specific location could not only benefit its people but also bring wealth to them and to those, for example, who traded in commodities such as cotton, sugar, and tobacco. A good man with good advice for a consulting government.
Banks carried on voluminous correspondence with his peers in other countries, encouraging and promoting friendly, purposeful international interaction in the sciences. Even during revolution and war! He was a natural choice for President of the Royal Society, a position he held for 42 years! His capacious London home, bursting with an unparalleled collection of specimens and books, became a meeting place for scientists and science patrons. Today, Banks’ collections and library represent a valuable segment of the Natural History Museum.
For his services to the country and to science, he was made a baronet, a K.C.B., and a Privy Councillor to the King. In Australia, his name is memorialized in schools, Bankstown, Cape Banks, a plant genus and dozens of plant species. Banks Island is found in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago of the Northwest Territories, Canada. The Banks Islands are in Torba province of the Republic of Venuatu [formerly, the South Pacific’s New Hebrides]. The Sir Joseph Banks Society is located in Horncastle, Lincolnshire.
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